Scandal is about to hit The Edible Schoolyard. A whistleblowing tip we received last week—scrawled in blood on dirty linen tablecloth—indicated the Edible Schoolyard is not in fact a well-meaning nonprofit but actually a windowless sweatshop in the basement of Chez Panisse.
The nonprofit, founded by restaurateur and food activist Alice Waters, claims to educate children about food choices and teach “life skills” through gardening. If by “gardening,” they mean packing youth with bleeding fingers and no food into the damp basement of Waters’ iconic restaurant,” then by all counts they are doing a wonderful job.
We sent in our assistant editor’s seven-year-old daughter as bait, equipped with a hidden camera. After three weeks, shocking footage was recovered, revealing maybe the most egregious violation to human rights that Berkeley has ever seen.
Our gritty video shows dozens of children crammed into a damp (but timelessly rustic) room in the basement of Chez Panisse. Between them, rows of linens and flowers to be arranged. The children, permitted uniforms of stained muslin with EDIBLE SCHOOLYARD branded on the sleeves, stitched linens by hand by light of oil lamps, squinting to etch the restaurant’s emblem on those classy water glases.
“They have such nimble fingers, they’re the only ones that can handle the handiwork that makes the décor so special,” says the sweatshop’s former overseer, who we will call George.
After pretending to plant kale in the mornings, the children are led to the basement and charged with the shelling of peas and menial but difficult handiwork like hemming napkins and polishing wood. They are permitted, at most, three marinated organic fava beans a day, and only if certain quotas are met. George tells us this is a more than fair trade.
“The beans are marinated in this gorgeous local vinegar and preserved lemon. It’s not a bad deal. Really, the kids don’t know how lucky they are,” said George.